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Changing Times | Children’s play continues at town centre site

I thought this week I would look back on a couple of prominent bygones in the town centre. First, who remembers the boating lake by the side of the Pavilion?


It was to prove to be a very popular attraction when it was opened in April 1937 as part of the council enterprise to commemorate the coronation of George VI and, as such, was named the Princess Elizabeth Boating pool.


It was a deceptively large pool with a capacity of 31,400 gallons and was opened by the Marchioness of Cambridge, who at that time had a town house in the nearby Craigweil area of the town.


The marchioness unveiled a plaque, commemorating the occasion but after the war the Council cremoved the plaque, to the council yard in Hotham Park. (I wonder where it is now?)


The main feature of this pool was that it was built in the shape of the map of England and Wales – maybe there was not enough room for Scotland. However, many of the seaside resorts – including Bognor Regis – were indicated in small green and red mosaic tiles in circles around the coastline.


This type of design, of course, made it an interesting shape for a boating pool and encouraged many children to sail their model boats around the imaginary coast of England.


By May 1947, the town’s council was to become involved in detailed discussions as to the future of the boating lake, and it was dubbed the ‘Council’s unwanted baby’.


Numerous schemes were put forward, including replacing it with a bowling green, which a council official commented ‘was already one of the biggest attractions and brought thousands of good-class visitors to the town’.


Another suggestion was a ‘scheme for decoration with coloured lights’, whatever that meant, and it was to apparently ‘add to the prospect of the Pavilion and keep up the appearance of the locality’.


By 1966, the council created a children’s play area near the pool, which included six swings, a slide, hobbyhorse and a climbing frame.


At the same time, councillors were to be seen inspecting the Sunken Garden with a rustic bridge, by the side of the boating lake nearby, which had fallen into disrepair, and was nearer to Argyle Circus. In 1989, the boating lake was filled in.


Today, there is still a children’s play area nearby, with more modern constructions complete with safety features, and seating. There is, therefore, still an area for children and parents to enjoy, albeit in a different location from the boating lake, which was to delight thousands of Bognor Regis children and one that seems to evoke so many memories. Those circles of place names can still be seen set within the play area.


Another iconic building in the town centre was that of the art deco Southdown Bus station in High Street. I never cease to be amazed at the passion that is used when describing this building.


However,I had never really been fully aware of the history of the site and its development into the Morrisons car park we have today.


Apparently, as far back as 1817 a ceremony took place on this site – in a seaside resort of fewer than 2,000 residents – to commemorate the laying of a foundation stone for the Jubilee School.


This school was built to educate and employ 50 poor girls, and was to remain in existence until the 1880s. Because of the decline in the number of subscription children locally the school eventually closed, but not before town residents had protested about plans put forward by the Local Board of Health for its future use.


It was suggested the building be demolished and replaced by a new town hall. However, eventually, following much discussion it was decided to retain the building but convert its use into the town hall.


From 1882, this sufficed until, in the 1920s, new plans were announced regarding a new site for a town hall in Clarence Road. Eventually, in 1927, the former school building was demolished, along with the properties on either side.


Seven years later, in 1934, the Southdown Bus Company built its ‘art deco’ bus station and the building became part of the fabric of the High Street to be retained for a lifetime, one would have thought.


However, in 1977, rumours began circulating and were reported in the local press, that the site was to be sold and this was hotly denied by the bus company.


Three years later and those early fears became realised when it was announced that the bus station was to be closed, and the 12 buses were to be transferred to Chichester and Worthing.


Bus bays were to be built in High Street. However, this did not placate the town’s people who seemed to regard the fact that all ‘the elderly would have to stand in the rain, and not be able to sit in the warm’, to be of paramount importance.


Numerous letters appeared in the local papers with ideas for the future development of the area and these included one resident who suggested that the area could be put to use as a roller skating area for young people.


They also suggested that the waiting room could be used as a hire shop and a soft drinks counter could be established. Another suggestion was that the area should be used to build a swimming pool but, from 1990 to 1993. the site became home to about 40 stallholders.


The area between Bedford Street and Queensway referred to as Fitzleet car park finally closed in January 1981 and Applied Suppliers commenced the building of their newest supermarket – Presto’s.


The opening of this new store was hoped to attract shoppers into the town, provide employment, unify the centre of the town and be the beginning of the awakening of Bognor Regis to a new image.


Passions continued to run as discussions continued to retain the façade of the building but by June 1981 the bus station closed, buses moved into the High Street and life continued as usual.


Demolition of the bus station finally took place in 1994 and the new car park finally opened.

Posted in Lifestyle.